Thursday, February 03, 2005




He's Indian, about 45. Thinning black hair, carefully combed over and around. Black horn- rimmed glasses. He's stocky on the way to bloat. A puffed up Salman Rushdie. I can't see him running five miles in a month, let alone at a stretch.

He has a booming, lilting voice which carries so effectively that everyone in the building becomes privy to his nonsense.

Friday, January 28, 2005




I never met her, but Scott showed me a picture. A pallid, thin faced suburban girl with dead eyes, Janis did nothing for me. She wore her hair long and parted in the middle, a very '70's look.

Ted Bundy would have been attracted to her.

"Nice looking girl," I said.

appears here




Veldon was moved, temporarily, to the noon to 8 time slot. They needed someone to do an evening run. He asked me to pick up his girlfriend, Lorna, and drive her to work while he was working the late shift.

"You're only about a mile away, right?" he asked.

"Right," I said.

A mile in city traffic during morning rush hour would take at least 15 minutes. Then another 10-15 minutes back across town to pick up the interstate.

"No problem," I said.

It hadn't been made clear to me that the two cousins were a part of the deal as well. The three were rarely ready when I pulled up to the house. I was leaving a half hour earlier than usual and was coming in late almost every day. Mr. Frank T was starting to notice.

"Our boss doesn't care if we come in late," Lorna said. "She's Veldon's aunt. Didn't you know that?"

"No," I said. "I didn't."

Veldon here
and here




Early 40's. Short and skinny, in a wiry white trash way. Thick glasses, slicked back black hair. His one facial expression was a glare. He wore light colors: pinks, yellows, baby blues. It added to his malevolent air.

Vocabulary even more limited than Bill the Mutterer's

"Fuck you."

"Fuck all you guys."

"Fuck this."

"Fuck this job."

"Fuck, fuck."

I gave Bob a wide berth.

full story here




A cheerful, blustery fellow in his 60's. Retired from the Navy, retired from one career, hired at the bank as part of the unspoken Scottish connection.

Frank's frame of reference was neatly divided between his Navy experience and his heritage.

"When did that fellow come on board?" he would ask whenever someone did something particularly stupid, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Where's Jim? In the head again? Bah? Now when I was in the Navy, we moved our bowels first thing in the morning or we didn't move them at all. Jim was never in the service, was he? Bah"

Jim found an out of the way gourmet bakery that made scones. He brought them to Frank in an attempt to win favor, or at least to deflect Frank's wrath. Frank ate the scones, but he never let up on Jim.

And, being a Scot, he looked out for Archie.

"Archie, come into my office, take a break. Don't worry, I'll have Jim do your afternoon rounds. Scone?"

full story here




I looked him up one day in the Pro Football Encyclopedia. He wasn't in there.

appears here




Bill was another messenger who refused to help sort the mail. When not driving, he stood in the corner of the mailroom farthest from the work area, faced the wall, and muttered. The muttering was on the order of: "Told him, told him, fucking motherfuckers. Fuckers can't tell me fuck fuck fuck...."

Bill's getup was another cause for concern. He dressed like a train engineer on the skids. Blue cap, striped shirt, overalls, all filthy. He had red hair which stuck out from under his cap in greasy clumps.

He'd been working there longer than everyone but Archie; no one knew if he'd been like that when he was hired, or if driving for the bank had done it to him.

from here




Charlie was a winter person. Knit cap, big black beard, long coat, work boots, slouched against the side of the building, smoking, avoiding Jim's mailroom duties, Charlie was in his element.

Even though I was there through a few summers, I can't remember Charlie without hat, coat and boots. I have no summer picture of him.

One afternoon Charlie motioned to me as I was leaving for the day.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I know you are at that college. Do you think their library would have this book?" He gave me a piece of paper. THE LIVES OF A CELL was carefully printed out.

"Yes, they probably would," I said.

"Can you get it for me?" Charlie asked.

"Probably," I said.

"OK," I said. I was a little concerned Charlie wouldn't return it, or lose it, and I would be on the hook, but my worries were unfounded.

appeared here

Thursday, January 27, 2005




Very black. Shaved head. Middle linebacker solid. His girlfriend, Lorna, and her two cousins, also worked at the bank, in bookkeeping. This caused me some aggravation later in my employ.

Veldon was a fight fan. I spent more than a few Friday nights at his apartment watching boxing on HBO. Veldon and his friends (a spectacularly scary crew) would go on prolonged semi- secretive rituals of cooking up and smoking cocaine, only paying cursory attention to the fights.

Veldon was eventually didmissed from the bank for depositing some blank pieces of paper into the bank's ATM along with a deposit slip that claimed $200. The ruse actually worked just long enough for him to withdraw the money and get caught.

The last I heard he was married to Lorna, selling insurance, and the proud father of one "little Veldon."

from here




From preppie to frat boy to college dropout, from high school athlete to co-ed softball player, from weekend drinker and joint smoker to full blown drunk and pothead, Scott was on a classic downward spiral and he was the last person to see it.

Even though he was a few years younger that I was, and even though we had grown up not more than ten miles from each other, Scott seemed to think that I was some rube in from the hinterlands who needed his wisdom in order to get by.

Some of what Scott told me:

"The blacks get the best pot. That's why I hang out with Veldon and Charlie. They get me dynamite shit, and they never rip me off."

"A Camaro's the best car. Chicks love Camaros. You never have to worry about getting laid if you have a Camaro. And they're fast, too."

"I buy cartons of cigarettes and keep the extra packs in the refrigerator. That way they don't get stale."

"My girlfriend, Janis, she's all right, but she wants to get engaged."

"I don't want to get engaged because right now, I go out with Janis on Saturdays and I can do what I want on Fridays, but if I got engaged I would have to go out with Janis on Fridays too."

"But then again, Janis doesn't really want to do a lot of fucking until we get engaged, so if I did get engaged, I would probably get laid more."

"Where I went to college, out west, they don't have TastyCakes. I had my mom mail them to me, but they weren't as good. I guess they got stale in the mail."

"Did you ever notice how, except for the blacks, that a lot of the people working at the bank are Scottish? I think that's why they hired me, because of my name."

"My mother, she has the best job. She works for a company that owns the song Happy Birthday. And all day long, all they do is open checks from people that have used that song and have to pay them. I could get a job over there right now, but it might be a little too weird, working with my mother all day."

"People around here think Bud is the best beer, but the best beer is Coors."

story here

Wednesday, January 26, 2005




Jim G was the supervisor of the mailroom. He was technically in charge of Archie, but no one had the heart to inform Archie. Archie thought he was in charge of Jim. This was good for one or two absurd confrontations a day.

Jim was tall, with a mop of greasy black hair and an absurd walrus mustache. He had bad skin and a pot belly, the inevitable result of many years of snack machine food.

Jim was a chortler. He had one line: "That's what she said" which he would interject into any conversation and follow up with his horrible flesh crawling chortle.

Messenger: "Boy, it's hot in here."
Jim: "That's what she said." Chortle.

Messenger: "Sorry I'm late."
Jim: "That's what she said." Chortle.

Me: "I'm going to kill, you jerkoff."
Jim: "That's what she said." Chortle.

I'm not sure I said that, but I did spend many sleepless nights, tossing and turning, wondering how I could kill Jim and get away with it.

Imagine my dismay when years later, Jim's unforgettable voice and chortle surfaced on network tv and radio as the pickle waving, pickle power, idiotic Cleveland Browns fan of Visa check card commercials. He is actually getting paid to annoy people, nationally.

There is no justice.

seen here




Archie was in his mid-eighties when I met him. He was a veteran of World War I, a Scot who'd marched to battle with kilt and dirk. He had been kept on at the bank, nearly two decades after traditional retirement age, because of his Scottish heritage and the Scottish culture that permeated the bank.

"The owner's a Stuart, after all," I once heard someone say.

Or maybe he said Stewart, I couldn't know. What's more, I didn't know if Stuart/Stewart was a name, a clan, or something else entirely. I didn't even know that people could own banks; I thought it was just faceless corporations.

Archie was almost decrepit, but not entirely. He had the energy to cadge enough help from the mailroomers and messengers to get by. A lot of people helped him out and covered for him. He was still employed there when I departed some years later.

cameo appearance

Tuesday, January 25, 2005




Had the look of an aging black radical trying to make his way in the straight world. Short hair, goatee, glasses, scowl.

I only saw him the once.

from here




John was a tall, lean, seemingly angry black man. His head bobbed on his long neck; he gave the appearance of a cobra about to strike. Don was deathly afraid of John and rarely asked him to do anything.

John spent most of his time in the coffee shop across the street from the back of the bank. He usually took a window seat and stared at Don as he sipped his coffee.

bit part




Don was in charge of shipping and receiving at the bank. Had an office but spent almost all of his time outside on the loading dock ramp, smoking furiously and scanning the highway for incoming deliveries.

Slight frame, thinning, receding black hair, short-sleeved white shirts, pocket protector, clip-on tie, polyester pants, shiny black shoes.

John was his assistant.





A gangly, goofy kid, a shambler, with a pronounced Adam's apple. I was one of many who made his high school life more miserable than it need have been. His father returned the favor some years later, making my tenure at the Mid-State Bank equally miserable.

story here




A funereal fellow. Tall, thin, craggy, bony hands, gray hair, gray suit, even gray eyes, for all I can remember.

Possessed of a good memory and willing to harbor a grudge. Apparently close to his son.

works here

Wednesday, December 29, 2004




My car had been chugging and hesitating so I stopped in at a local garage. The mechanic (skinny, late 30's, stained dark blue jumpsuit, long greasy black hair, black baseball cap, slightly askew) took a look and a listen.

"There's nothing wrong with this car," he said. "You just got some bad gas. I'm going to fill you up and and put in some fuel line cleaner and you'll be fine."

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Listen," he said, "where have you been buying your gas? From those quick serve stations?"

"Mostly," I said.

He snorted. "All those people who run those stations, they're ragheads, not Americans. Have you noticed that?"

I nodded.

"Can I give you a tip?" he asked.

"Sure," I said.

He bent over and in a conspiratorial half-whisper pronounced: "White people. Get your gas from white people."

He nodded his head slowly, as one does when imparting a great truth. Then he gave me a quick wink, turned, and went back into the garage.

I got about a mile down the road before my car started chugging again, and finally stalled out. I had it towed to the dealer.

Thursday, December 09, 2004



A hundred fifty years ago this guy would have been on the back of a buckboard selling some 180 proof concoction as a surefire tonic for the stresses of frontier living. At the turn of the 20th century he would have been beating the bushes like Professor Harold Hill, selling some useless product to rubes in the heartland.

Today, he's a corporate consultant/trainer. And, unlike earlier versions of this type, the contemporary avatar doesn't even have to pretend that he's delivering a real product. But instead of being ridden out of town on a rail, he's welcomed into meeting rooms, conference rooms, seminars, and is paid handsomely for dispensing his modern snake oil.

He's in his mid fifties. He's got a full head of silver hair combed straight back and a double-breasted silver suit to match. Flashes a gaudy watch and shoots his cufflinks to complete the impression. He's quite taken with himself and assumes we are too.

One of the handouts from Mr. Slick includes a "partial list" of programs that he delivers. Apparently he's an expert in:

"E-Mail Etiquette" (that's got to be a full day program)

"The Art Of Negotiating" (you should have seen him nailing down this gig)

"Preventing Sexual Harassment" (obviously developed in self-defense - women won't leave him alone)

"Forward Thinking Leadership" (revised version of 20/20 hindsight program)

"Managing Time Effectively" (he takes no questions)

"Professional Presentation Skills" (we shall see)

"Communicating For Results" (I said I wanted lettuce and onion on that burger)

Among others. Many others. He's got:

"Dealing With Difficult People" (for the bad minority employess)

"A Dialogue On Respect" (for the good ones)

"Communicating In a Diverse Environment" (for the ones you haven't pigeon-holed yet)

"Conducting Performance Appraisals" (how to skewer the bad ones without getting sued)

"The Dynamics Of Change" (out they go)

And on and on.

Today we are in for an afternoon of "Releasing Your Personal Memory Power"


How It Went

Wednesday, December 01, 2004



We were at a mid-scale bar/restaurant, celebrating JA's birthday. There were a dozen of more of us, essentially the same crowd who would have been standing around a bar like this twenty years before. Not much had changed, beyond the fatness and the baldness and the fact that the wall of booths across from the bar area was full of kids, our kids, ranging in age from 0 to 16, most attacking platters of chicken wings, bowls of french fries, and personal pizzas.

I was having a good night. Buck, JA's brother, had picked up a big fat tab before leaving. Before we even had time to start another one, Steve B. bought LZ and me glasses of wine.

"You'll never guess who I ran into," Steve said.

"Tell me," I said.

"Tommo. Remember him? From the old days?"

"I do remember him," I said. "I had a very strange relationship with him, for a short time."

"What do you mean? Steve asked.


"It all started one night years ago" I said. "I was in a mall parking lot, hurrying to my car. It was winter. It was freezing. I heard someone yelling to me."

And it all came back to me.

"Hey, over here! It's me. Tommo."

I hadn't seen Tommo in a while and I was glad of it. He had always made it clear how much he disliked me. I could only imagine that he was hailing me in this dark parking lot so he could knock me around. He was a big bearded brute, I didn't stand a chance if there was a fight. I couldn't reach my car without running, there was nothing handy I could see to hit him with, so I took a deep breath and turned around to take my medicine. But Tommo was all smiles. He stuck out his hand for a shake like a big furry dog.

"Hey, hey, where have you been?" he asked me. "I've been meaning to look you up. I just bought a house and I'm having a big party in a couple of weeks. You've got to come. Let me give you the address."

Tommo had gotten married right out of high school to a sour stocky woman with thick glasses who was a few years older then he. No one understood the attraction, from either angle. The whole time they'd been married, they'd been living in the basement of Tommo's parents' house, saving up for their own place. So now, after years, they'd made the leap.

I wrote off Tommo's uncharacteristic friendliness as some sort of artifact of his new position as a property owner. He was on a new-house-high, or something on those lines, I figured.

"I'd love to come," I said. And quickly forgot about the encounter.


Jurvoz called. "Tommo says you are coming to his party tomorrow. Can you give me a ride?"

"Don't you have a car?" I asked. "I thought you did."

"I do have one," Jurvoz said, "but it's temporarily unavailable."

"Impounded?" I hazarded.

"Something like that," Jurvoz said.

"Don't you have a girlfriend?" I asked. "With a car?"

"She can't come," Jurvoz said. "She has to work. It's the busy season."

"I'll be over a little after nine," I said.

"Maybe you should stop at the liquor store before you pick me up," Jurvoz said. "Get a bottle of whiskey and some beer, as a housewarming gift, from the both of us."

"There's an idea," I said.


Tommo still liked me. "Hey, hey. My man!" he said. And he gave me a big hug as I entered the house.

His wife just stared, as if she couldn't place me. Then she gave me a quizzical look. She had placed me and she didn't know why I'd been invited to her house.

I shrugged my shoulders. I didn't know either.

The party was the first of many. It turned out that Tommo loved to entertain. We worked our way through February, marked March with a St. Patty's get together, were back in two weeks for an April Fools Day bash, and were more than happy to make use of Tommo's pool and barbeque facilities once the weather broke.


As the summer wore the parties grew larger and more intense. There was often a frantic feel to them, as if fun were a zero-sum activity, only to be gained at someone else's loss.

The picnic tables at the back of the property had been claimed by an unfriendly group of hippies, who were there because of some tenuous connection with Tommo's sister. They applied themselves grimly to the task of getting and staying high. They only time they socialized was when one of their number was deputized to the grill area for a food run.

The pool was taken over by aggressive horseplayers. Balls and frisbees flew everywhere. Anyone coming close to edge of the water was unceremoniously thrown in.

Some serious drinkers had set themselves up at Tommo's cabana bar area. Tommo's liquor was for their use exclusively, for everyone else it was BYOB.

There was another group who spent most of the afternoons and evenings hanging around Tommo's cellar door. At regular intervals a few of them at a time would disappear down the cellar stairs, reemerging a few minutes later, looking conspicuously inconspicuous. We assumed some serious drugging was going on, but no one wanted to ask.

Tommo's wife hadn't been out all summer. She was said to be at her computer, working. No one knew on what, or for that matter, what kind of job she had.

And Tommo himself had become a sort of low rent Gatsby, usually just surveying the goings-on from his deck before retreating inside. It was said that on the 4th of July he had actually taken a swim, but if so, I hadn't seen it.


The few of us who were unaligned with any of the major factions spent a lot of time at the horseshoe pit, throwing game after game. I was in the middle of yet another thrilling match with Joe T. when a bolt of lightning lit up the sky followed by a shotgun blast of thunder. I looked up: the sky was darkening quickly; I felt the wind pick up.

"That's it for me," I told Joe.

I found FW. "Let's take off," I said. "It's turning ugly."

FW's eyes were glassy. I suspected that she'd been having some illicit fun herself.

"We can't go now," she said. "We have to take Jurvoz and Alanna."

"Forget it," I said. "Jurvoz won't leave until that keg's empty, and I haven't seen Alanna since we got here."

Then there was another loud crash. This one wasn't thunder, it was a late-arriving party guest, who had driven his car onto Tommo's lawn and smacked into a tree. He fell out of the car, laughed, and walked toward the keg. The car was still running, steam was billowing from under the hood.

"I don't need a plague of locusts to get the message," I said to FW. "Let's go."


As we were driving home, The Eye Doctor, who'd had a few too many, slipped and cracked his head on the side of the pool. There was a rush to the house for first aid supplies, for the telephone, for the host.

Someome burst into a bedroom where Tommo was entertaining Alanna. A lot of things became clearer. Jurvoz left in a huff. He and Alanna were through. Tommo's wife kicked Tommo him out the next morning. Jurvoz moved into Alanna's apartment, but that didn't last long. Tommo's wife divorced him and sold the house. She moved out west and got a job managing a dude ranch.

(The Eye Doctor chipped some bones in his neck, but was OK. The incident scared him so much that he swore off drinking. Although not permanently, as we have seen.)


"So, that was that," I told Steve. "No more pool parties. I never saw Tommo again. How's he doing after all this time?"

"Not well," said Steve. "Things just kept going downhill for him. He was depressed. He drank a lot. He lost his job. He was even homeless for a while. Now he lives in a cabin in the pine country. He's like a savage. He's got nothing."

"Does he live off the land?" I asked. "Like a mountain man?"

"No," Steve said. "Apparently he tried to at one point, but he was no good at it."

"Tommo was one weird guy," I said. "He always hated me, then he acted like we were best friends, then he disappears."

"Well," Steve said, "he's bipolar. That could explain a lot of his behavior."

"Bipolar," I said. "How about that? It never crossed my mind."

"Oh sure," Steve said. "That's probably why he acted that way towards you."

"Is that what bipolar means?" I asked. "First you hate somebody for no reason, then you like them, also for no reason?"

"Absolutely," said Steve. "That's exactly what it is."

"How about that," I said. I thought for a minute.

"So, if Tommo couldn't hunt or fish, how did he get by?"

Steve laughed. "Hunt or fish? Tommo couldn't even forage. He got a job as a janitor at the Dollar Bonanza Outlet."

"I don't think I'm familiar with that store," I said.

"It's a store where they discount the stuff they couldn't sell at regular dollar stores," Steve explained.

"Sound pretty brutal," I said.

"They get a rough crowd in there, " Steve concurred. "Tommo told me he's had to wield a mop, in self defense, one more than one occasion."

Steve waved the bartender over.

"I've got this round," I said.

Thursday, November 18, 2004



The thieving priest from the previous post got me thinking of nuns I've known.

From my Catholic grammar school:

Sister Kevin Marie: My 1st grade teacher, my first nun. A tall mean woman.

I had always been called by my middle name, but Sister Kevin insisted on calling me by first name, as my middle name wasn't a saint's name. I resisted, and wouldn't answer when called on by the heretofore unused first name. The principal was brought in, my parents were called. My parents won the battle, I was called by my middle name from then on, but at a terrible cost. I was marked. Marked by a woman who had changed her own name and was called by a man's name.

At this point, I'm supposed to say that I didn't see the incongruity at the time, but I did see it. I was one disaffected 6 year old.

I had no nuns from 2nd through 5th grade.

Sister Pruney: (I forget her real name) My 6th grade teacher. A short mean woman with a shriveled face. Called Sister Pruney by all. One day, William A. brought in a picture of a prune that he'd cut from a magazine. He labeled it Sister Pruney and passed it around. It was noticed and confiscated.

A nun was brought in from another class to yell at us. She told us we'd hurt Sister Pruney's feelings. That was a shocker. Nuns had feelings? None of us had ever considered such a thing.

A highlight from Sister Pruney's reign: One snowy slushy day she had everyone line up in the hallway before class. Those who'd worn boots were allowed to separate, take off the boots and proceed to class. Those who'd come to school just in shoes remained in line. Sister Pruney then took a yardstick and smacked the bootless ones across the back of the thighs for attempting to track sloppy snow into her classroom. She aimed a little low when she assaulted Nick C. The yardstick hit the back of his knees and cracked. "Your parents will get the bill for this," she said.

Then she went to the supply closet, got another yardstick and continued whacking her way down the line.

Sister Carmella: 7th grade. An exceedingly tall, exceedingly mean woman. She towered over the 7th graders even more than Sister Kevin had towered over the 1st graders.

Sister Carmella's signature move was to throw a glass of ice water at misbehaving students. She kept a full pitcher and glasses on her desk at all times. Her downfall came one Friday in early spring when she tried to perform her usual bit of shock therapy on habitual miscreant Jack T. He ducked and Anne S., sitting directly behind Jack, was drenched. She was a good girl, never in trouble, never punished, and the shock of being unjustifiably drenched sent her into a hysterical crying fit. She began to hyperventilate. Her parents had to be called.

On Monday, Jack's desk was unoccupied. He'd been expelled. For ducking.

And we had a new teacher. Mrs. L, former 5th grade teacher, had been lured out of retirement to shepherd us through the rest of the year.

It seems that Anne S's father was the manager of the local Cadillac dealership. The dealership that had always been more than happy to provide special favors to the parish priests, all of whom were accustomed to driving Cadillacs. Anne's father had apparently read the riot act to the monsignor about the way his daughter had been treated in the monsignor's school and the likelihood of the monsignor receiving any special consideration at the Cadillac lot in the future.

So, that was the last of Sister Carmella. Transferred? Walled up in the convent basement? Who new? She was just gone.

Sister Loretta Adrienne: 8th grade. A very fat, very mean woman. Known colloquially as Sister Loretta Fats. Her mode of discipline was a quick hard slap to the face of the misbehaver. I kept a little notebook with all the slappees' names and a tally of the number of times then been slapped. I think in some dim way I was hoping there'd be legal action and I could be called to testify against her. But, of course, nothing of the sort happened. She just slapped away all year, and then we graduated.

A Nun My Sister Had For A Short Time, Unfortunately Her Name Is Lost To History

This one was my sister's teacher in 5th grade. She freaked out very early in the school year. It was a warm September day, when, on recess duty, she smacked a kid's head against the side of the school building until he was bleeding and semiconscious. She was taken away, had a seizure over the weekend, and died.

My sister's class was greeted by another guest lecturer on Monday morning. A nun they hadn't seen before addressed the class:

"You! You are murderers! Sister is dead and you have killed her. Killed her by your behavior! You have killed a bride of Christ!"

And one more:

My Aunt: My father's older sister is a nun, one of the luckiest nuns of all time. Her two assignments, in all the years I've known her, have been in Virgin Islands for the school year, and at a gigantic beachfront retreat house in New Jersey the rest of the year. She would visit us for a week or so every summer; I realize now that it must have been quite a comedown for her.

We had cats. Aunt Sister was deathly afraid of cats. The fear was such that she wouldn't even enter a room if a cat was there. This led to a lot of maneuvering. If a cat was in the front room and she wanted to get to the kitchen, she would leave the house by the front door and walk around to the side door or the back door. She tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, but once I realized what she was doing, I would quickly scoop up the nearest available cat and rush to deposit it on the other side of the door she was approaching. A pleasant time was had by all.

We had an apple tree. Aunt Sister's big project during her visits was always to collect as many apples as possible and cook them up into the most vile dessert concoctions imaginable. Her Apple Brown Betty, in particular, still makes me shudder.

Aunt Sister repeated everything she said. Everything she said. This amused us no end. In fact, I can still make my brother laugh by simply dropping my voice to a low chortle and repeating myself. And repeating myself.


I have no use for nuns or for cooked apples to this day.

Monday, November 08, 2004



I know the greedy, thieving, bon-vivant priest has been a stock character for hundreds of years. And the priest as closet homesexual has been making an unprecedent amount of appearances lately.

Nevertheless, I believe this guy is sui generis. Presented here for research purposes and entertainment value only:

From the Newark Star Ledger 11/6/2004


Priest in Rumson stole at least $500,000, lavished gifts on male friend, authorities say
Saturday, November 06, 2004


In Rumson, a jewel of a town by the Jersey Shore known for its quiet wealth and shaded lawns, the Rev. Joseph W. Hughes blended right in.

There was the constant stream of luxury cars, the membership at the Rumson Country Club, the frequent vacations, and of course his big diamond ring. Father Hughes, pastor of Holy Cross Catholic Church for the past 16 years, seemed to dine out every night at pricey restaurants like the Fromagerie or Harry's Lobster Restaurant, often with the same few couples from church.

It may have been a flamboyant lifestyle for a parish priest, but most people believed he had inherited family money. Yesterday, authorities said the 60-year-old priest was tapping into an altogether different source.

The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office held a news conference in Freehold to announce that, between 2001 and 2004, Hughes allegedly misappropriated at least $500,000 of the church's funds to cover personal expenses such as limo rentals and airline tickets -- and bestow gifts on a 25-year-old male "personal friend," including a $58,000 BMW, giant-screen TV, stainless steel refrigerator, jewelry and trips to Bermuda and Cancun.

The friend, David Rogers of Howell Township, is a $50,000-a-year employee of Holy Cross Church who performed maintenance work, authorities said. The priest bought Rogers' house in Howell, a ranch, in 2003, according to documents on file in Monmouth County. Hughes currently pays the mortgage and utility bills, authorities said.

"Certainly, he did not dedicate his life to the lifestyle of a vow of poverty," said first assistant prosecutor Robert A. Honecker Jr. He said there were "obvious failures of internal controls" at Holy Cross.

Hughes turned himself in to police on Thursday after learning that an arrest warrant was in the works. He was charged with one count of theft of more than $75,000 of church funds, and released on $100,000 bail. If convicted, he faces a 10-year prison term, according to authorities.
The Diocese of Trenton has removed him from the priesthood and expelled him from the rectory in Rumson. The rectory and simple white wood-shingled Colonial-style church are set on nearly six rolling acres, between the Sea Bright Lawn Tennis and Cricket Club and a gated riverfront mansion. Church collections bring in $750,000 a year, authorities said.
Yesterday, Hughes was said to be "in an undisclosed location with friends," said his attorney, Michael Pappa of Hazlet.

Reaction from parishioners at Holy Cross was mixed yesterday. Some, like choir director Tucky Parent, called him "a wonderful priest and pastor."

Others said they were hardly surprised. "A lot of people thought something would come down someday," said Bill Denver, a parishioner from Shrewsbury. "He lived a very elaborate lifestyle."

Hughes had spent the last two years pushing for a controversial expansion of Holy Cross Church, a project that had sharply divided the parish. Supporters pledged $8 million for the project, of which Holy Cross has collected $5.2 million, the prosecutor's office said.
That project has been significantly scaled back by the Rumson Zoning Board of Adjustment, which called Hughes' original plan "too expansive and massive."

Authorities said they believe that although Hughes raided a number of church accounts, they did not find any evidence that he helped himself to money earmarked for the expansion.
They also emphasized that they had not charged Hughes' friend. Honecker said, however, that investigators want to determine if Rogers knew how the priest financed his presents.
Rogers could not be found for comment yesterday.

A neighbor, Ed Percoco, said Rogers was a quiet man who often hung out with friends on his front porch and played the guitar.

Hughes' alleged misdeeds came to the prosecutor's attention on Nov. 1, when the Diocese of Trenton notified the office of "possible criminal conduct," Honecker said. The diocese had performed a financial audit of the church, covering the period from July 1, 2001, to July 30, 2004.

The audit revealed a bank account, not found on any of the parish's financial reports, at Shrewsbury State Bank. Money in the account had come from golf outings, raffle events and other charity events to benefit the church, according to authorities.

Hughes drew $390,000 from the account to cover non-parish expenses, chiefly credit card and personal bills, Honecker said. Another $137,000, in checks Hughes made out to "cash," was removed from the account, he said. Bank statements for the account were sent to a post office box in Sea Bright, the assistant prosecutor said.

The priest also took money from an account at a different bank, where the church had several investment funds, Honecker said. He allegedly used money from that fund to cover another $52,000 in personal funds. From yet another church account, Hughes took $100,000 for personal expenses, Honecker said.

Honecker said he believed that church members had no idea what was going on.

"It was believed the lifestyle he was leading was being paid for by proceeds from his inheritance," he said.

Honecker said the alleged theft "could go higher" than $500,000. Many of the bills reviewed are very large sums and are not itemized, he said. The criminal investigation is continuing.

From 1974 until 1988, when he became pastor at Holy Cross, Hughes was principal at Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville.

Before then, he held a series of associate pastor positions, at St. Joseph's Church in Toms River, Our Lady of Mount Virgin in Middlesex, and St. Philip and James R.C. Church in Phillipsburg, said Steven Emery of Princeton Communications Group, an outside public relations specialist hired by the diocese.

Emery said that Hughes is still "technically a priest," despite his resignation and removal, and will continue to receive salary and benefits from the diocese.

Pappa, the priest's attorney, described his client as a tireless advocate with a heart "as big as he is." Hughes is a portly man. "If you needed him, he was there," he said.

Yesterday, outside the Holy Cross school, some parents fretted over what to tell their children.
"I send them to this school to teach them not to steal and cheat," said Claire McCartney of Holmdel, while picking up her son, a seventh-grader. "I just feel so bad for the kids."

At Notre Dame High School where Hughes served as principal, educators who knew Hughes said they were shocked by news of his alleged crime and personal life. "I cannot say anything bad about Father Hughes," said Ralph Sheffield, defensive coach for the freshman football team, who said Hughes' efforts greatly boosted the school's academics and enrollment.

"He was a priest, but he was down to earth. Everybody loved the guy," he said.

Staff writers Tom Hester and Jeff Diamant contributed to this story.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004



If you need a little liar to punch up a story, Charlee Anne's your girl. Give her pigtails, a few freckles, put her in a jumper and stand back.

Here's the specs:

Address: Unknown. Has pointed out several local McMansions as her abode. Evidence doesn't support the assertions.

Parentage: Unknown. Has stated that both parents are in jail.

Other Relatives: No known siblings. Grandparents "not dead yet."

Pets: Claims a deer as a house pet.

Special Skills: Says she sawed Amy in half last summer and put her back together. Claims Amy was unhurt by the procedure. Unable to contact Amy to verify miracle.

Literary Precursors: Shirley Jackson's Charles.

Now appearing here. (10/12/2004 entry)

Thursday, September 16, 2004



After I clocked in for the dinner shift at MonsterBurger, I checked the schedule and saw a new name: GrillMan - Adolph.

JJ, the assistant night manager, introduced us to the new worker before our shift started. His name was indeed Adolph. Adolph was taller than I was, and older. I figured him for at least a college sophomore. He had short blond hair, blue eyes, and a strong jaw. He also stood up straight with shoulders back, in comparison to the rest of us, who slumped and slouched around, letting our weight rest on any surface that would support us.

Adolph looked good, imposing even, in his new MonsterBurger uniform. His tunic was bright and shiny, his black pants had a sharp crease, and his black shoes gleamed with polish. His paper/mesh hat sat sharply on his head.

In comparison, my tunic was faded and permanently grease stained, my black pants shapeless, my shoes no better than a hobo's.

At the end of the shift, Adolph looked even crisper than when he had started.


I found JJ in the cooler, counting tomatoes.

"Why would you hire a guy like that?" I asked.

"Like what?" JJ said.

"A Nazi," I said. "A guy named after Hitler."

JJ looked at me as if I had gone crazy. "Adolf Hitler, with an f," he said. "This Adolph is a ph."

"You don't see see any problem?" I asked.

"The guy shouldn't get a job," JJ asked, "because he has an unfortunate name?"

"Unfortunate, maybe," I said, "but not unavoidable. His parents named him that. They could have given him any name and they chose Adolf."

"With a ph," JJ said.

"Would you name your kid Lucipher?" I asked. "Would the ph make a difference? There's still a message, and most likely an expectation implied there."

JJ laughed out loud. "He's just a guy cooking some burgers."

"I'm going to keep an eye on him," I said, "as a favor to you."


Adolph worked the grill for a few months. He kept to himself, didn't speak to any of us, didn't really acknowledge us at all.

During slow times, we all scattered, some outside for a quick smoke, some to the bathroom, some even restocked their stations. But not Adolph. He rarely left his post. When it got slow, he went to work with a spray bottle and a cloth, cleaning the outside of the giant grill, the counters, the steamer doors and the microwaves. His area was orderly and impeccable.


"Looks like you were wrong about Adolph," JJ said. "He's become the best worker on the night shift."

"That just proves my point," I said. "For my money all that spit and polish makes him more of fascist Nazi bastard, not less."

"Don't let him hear you talking like that," JJ said. "He might goose step your ass right to the front."

"I'm Irish, myself," I said. "With a little German thrown in as well. I doubt I'm first on his list."

"You've gone insane," JJ said. "I may have to cut your hours."


After some observation, I noticed that Adolph was stealing. He was using his obsessive cleaning routine as a cover. He rubbed and cleaned along the counter, until he got to the steamer where the fresh cooked burgers were stowed. With one motion, he opened the steamer, dropped his rag over a burger, and plucked it out, covered with the rag. After this he walked to the slop sink area in back, where I presume he stuffed down the burger.

I wasn't exactly shocked. Everyone who worked at the MonsterBurger stole food. But with most of us, it was an open secret. We covered for each other, handed CheesyMonsterBurgers over the counter to nonpaying friends and family, stashed stolen shakes in the walk-in refrigerators, casually grabbed a handful of fries when we walked past the fry station, and on and on.

It was the solitary aspect of Adolph's thefts that was disturbing. That and the fact that he was apparently risking his job over and over for plain burgers that had been covered with dirty cleaning rags. I didn't know what to make of it. I didn't know if he was a master criminal, or just a moron.


One night I came to work a little late and went right to my station. I was busy and didn't notice for quite some time that there was a new GrillMan, a girl I recognized from my high school.

When the dinner rush was over I went back to the office and found JJ.

"Where's Adolph?" I asked.

"Gone," JJ said.

"For good?" I asked.

"For good."

"That's all you telling me?" I asked.

"That's it," JJ said. "I can't talk about it."

"Just nod if I'm right then," I said. "Was it the burgers under the cloth thing?"

"The what?" JJ said. "I have no idea what you're talking about. What burgers? What cloth?"

"So if it wasn't the burgers, then it was the other thing, wasn't it?" I said. "What I warned you about."

JJ didn't say anything, but as I was leaving his office I looked back just in time to see him give me an almost imperceptible nod.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004



Doug: Tall and skinny, death-white complexion, lank black hair, dead pig eyes, horn rimmed glasses.

His crimes:

In high school he worked as a cook at PancakePavilion. During his shifts he cooked extra dinners, carefully packed them in to-go containers and set them outside the back door. His burnout friends stopped by and picked them up. They were the the most well-fed group of pothead, speed freak, time wasting losers one could hope to see.

Doug lived across the street from a public golf course. His front door looked out on the 16th fairway. He regularly heard golfers cursing one particular tree that had been unfortunately, or unfairly, situated. In order to stop the complaining, Doug snuck out one night and cut down the tree.

One summer Doug invested in spray paint and stencils. With the stencils he made a template that said Lou Gravity. He spent many evenings spray painting that name on mailboxes throughout the township. This made the local papers.

When Doug was in college he convinced the facilities coordinator to donate outside space for community vendors to sell their wares. (In the interest of fostering good town and gown relations.) He then charged the vendors an arm and a leg for the privilege of selling on campus and pocketed those proceeds.

He got a degree in forensic pathology and a job at the state police investigations lab. One evening he slashed the tires of most of the cars in the lot ( both police and civilian vehicles). He was implicated, but not actually caught. He was dismissed, but not charged.

That's the last I've heard of him.

Thursday, September 09, 2004



They rode up together on their bikes, big clunky no gear fat tire contraptions. One looked a little older than me, one a little younger. They both had stand-up crew cuts, and were both wearing white t-shirts, long green work pants, and alarmingly, black tie shoes instead of sneakers.

I'd seen enough tv reruns to have a reference point. They both looked as if they'd escaped from a 50's sitcom and had somehow materialized in my driveway years after the fact.

"We're the Ulrickeys," the bigger one said. "I'm Ray and this is Kurt."

"Hi," I said.

"We heard you just moved in. We'd like to be friends with you." Again from the bigger one. The younger one just stood there sporting a classic dopey smile. "Can we be your friends?"

I was only twelve at the time, but I knew a golden opportunity when I saw one. I'd also read Tom Sawyer and taken its lessons to heart.

I was standing there because my mother had sent me out to plant a row of bushes along the edge of the driveway. It was hot, the ground was hard. I didn't want to do it.

"We can be friends," I said, "if you plant these bushes down this row. I'll mark where each one should go."

This was to be the extent of my participation. I didn't want their help; I wanted them to do all the work. I didn't sell my friendship cheaply.

"OK," the older one said. He looked at his brother. "Let's get to work."

He took the shovel and started digging. I went into the garage and got a shovel for the younger one.

"Here," I said. "You can start on that end."

I went into the house and got myself a big glass of lemonade. I took it out and sat in the shade of the apple tree.

"If you get thirsty, there's a hose on the side of the garage," I said.

They were good workers. In just over two hours all the bushes were planted.

"Do you want to play now?" the older one asked.

"No, thanks," I said. "I have to go in."


Tempting Ending: The Ulrickeys pedaled away. I never saw them again. When I asked around the neighborhood no one had heard of them or knew any boys matching their description.


Alternate Ending: They did come back a few times, but I would never come out and play with them. A few years later the older one hit puberty and got big and mean and frustrated and came over and beat the tar out of me for my past behavior.


Poetic Justice Ending: Instead of beating me up, the big one snuck back one night and ripped up all the bushes he'd been tricked into planting. My parents called the police but they were unable to generate any leads. I was too ashamed of my behavior to point to the likely culprits.


Gothic Ending: Instead of beating me up, the big one snuck up and hit me in the back of the head with a shovel.


From there - 1: It was a glancing blow, he ran away, and that was the end of it.

Or - 2: It was a direct hit. I spent several weeks in the hospital and barely avoided brain damage. I was unable to identify my attacker because of traumatic short-term memory loss associated with the impact of the shovel on my cranium.

Or: - 2a Additionally, I had to have a plate put in my head. This causes me endless trouble at airport security checkpoints.

Or - 3: All of 2 and 2a but I was unable to avoid the brain damage. I still suffer from seizures and have a mild form of aphasia which limits my ability to communicate in normal fashion, although it doesn't affect blogging.


The Underside Of Suburbia Ending: It turned out that the Ulrickeys were well-known neighborhood characters. They were a little slow (as they said in those days), but hard workers and eager to please. Everyone took advantage of them. The guy across the street "let" them mow his lawn for years and never paid them a cent. Someone else actually signed them up for a paper route, then did their collections each week and kept the money.


Armisted Maupin Ending: The older one was a burgeoning homosexual masochist. He loved being ordered around. He would grow up and move to San Francisco where all his tendencies could be indulged without pretense.

The younger one was grinning the dopey grin because he had figured out the whole setup. He was not gay, but he would also grow up and move to San Francisco where he would chronicle the lifestyle of his brother and of his brother's friends and parlay his inside look at this deviant culture into a three book deal.


American Gothic /American Beauty Ending: The boys were forced to dress like 50's relics because of their controlling overbearing older father. He drank, abused his wife, and treated his boys like indentured servants. They were rarely allowed to leave the property.

From this - 1: The old man dropped dead of a heart attack and the family was released.

Or - 2: Things got worse and worse. There were screamings and beatings. The police were there more often than not. The shades were drawn. The grass grew higher and higher. The wife and kids were hardly ever seen. No one knew what the heck was going on.

Or - 3: As the old man grew older and the kids grew bigger, he was forced to ease up. The boys moved out after high school, the old man died, the wife moved in with her sister in Iowa.

The house was sold to a young vibrant family and the curse was lifted.


Wednesday, September 08, 2004



"Who is that woman waving frantically at you?" LZ asked.

"I think that's Coach Dan's wife," I said. "I don't know her name."

"She's coming over," LZ said. "She looks very excited to see you."

"Hi," I said. "All ready for the start of the season?"

"You don't remember me, do you?" she asked.

"Aren't you Dan's wife?" I asked.

"I mean from before," she said. "Don't you remember me from before? I'm Glinda P."

I remembered the name. I'd gone to grammar school with a Glinda P. I could picture a girl with bangs and a square lunch box. The lunch box was wicker or straw, with a dark strap, probably leather. It was a curiosity in a fourth grade lunchroom of clunky metal boxes and brown paper bags.

"Now I remember," I said. "But didn't you leave that school?"

"Yes," Glinda said. "We moved when I was 9."

I only remembered her because of the lunchbox. How had she remembered me? Had I some bizarre possession or personality quirk that made me instantly identifiable after some 30 years? I didn't want to ask. I didn't want to know.

Glinda was now focused on LZ. I did a quick introduction.

"Why don't you ladies get acquainted," I said. "I'm going to walk over to the dugout and see how the team looks this year."

Tuesday, August 31, 2004



I was leaving a convenience store, newspaper under my arm. I was slightly aware of someone approaching the store from my right. As I pushed open the door I heard a car horn blowing. I looked up, right into the face of The Pretty Girl.

She had a broad smile on her face. She knew (or thought she did) that the horn had been blowing at her. She liked that.

I tried to take her in. Tall, but not too tall (too tall would be taller than I am). Slim, but not stick-figured. Blue eyes, or maybe gray. Head up, shoulders back. T shirt, shorts. Light brown hair to the shoulders. Toothy. Maybe 19.

She passed by me. I held the door for her. I think she said thanks, but I'm not sure.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004



It was a Saturday morning when D was about seven or eight.

"There's a short, burly guy with a baseball cap coming up the walk," LZ said.

"That must be D's new baseball coach, Dan B," I said. "Let me get the door."

"Coach Dan," I said. "What brings you here?"

"I wanted to talk to you about your boy, D, and baseball," Dan said. "Mind if I come in?"

"Not at all," I said. "Can I get you a cup of coffee?"

"Never touch the stuff," Dan said. "No stimulants, no depressants, nothing. I try to stay on an even keel."

"That's commendable," I said.

"About D," Dan said. "He has some ability, but he needs work. Now, when My Boy was three, almost four, I had the wife change his nap time and our dinner hour so when I got home we could work on hand-eye techniques. We went down to the basement every night. I rolled him fifty balls, then I bounced him fifty, then I lobbed fifty right to his midsection."

"I have noticed that Your Boy has excellent coordination," I said.

"You haven't been doing this with D, have you?" Dan asked.

"No," I admitted. "I haven't."

"I've developed a list of skill building drills that you can work on with him," Dan said. "You don't want to wait until it's too late."

"Too late," I said. "Too late for what?"

"Why, for All-Stars," Dan said. "That's what we're working for, isn't it?"

"I didn't even know they had All-Stars at this age," I said.

"They don't," Dan said. "I'm talking down the road a few years from now. But this is the time to get ready. Don't kid yourself, all the coaches are making notes and planning."

"I didn't know that," I said. "From what I remember, they had tryouts every year, and the kids who did the best made the All-Stars."

"That's the old way," Dan said. "Current thinking is that you've got to get a core group of kids early, groom them, work with them, and forget the rest. It's the only way to succeed."

"No tryouts, then?" I asked.

"Oh, they still have tryouts every year. It's required. But it's just a matter of form, making it look fair, so everyone thinks they have a chance," Dan explained.

"I see," I said. "So, did you play a lot of baseball yourself?"

"No," Dan said. "I didn't start playing baseball early enough to really get my skills developed. I was a wrestler. I wrestled my way all through college."

I could believe it. I had a vivid image of him grappling with an opponent, a mirror image of himself, tussling out of a classroom, rolling down a hallway, bumping down stone steps, ending up in a heap at the edge of that stubby grass plot optimistically known as the quad.

"Also, if you're interested, I've got a copy of the national physical fitness standards," Dan said. "There's no way I trust that grammar school gym teacher to keep anyone in shape. What I'm working for is to have My Boy exceed the standards by 100% this year, by 200% the next year and so on."

He handed me a pamphlet and some loose photocopied sheets.

"Thanks," I said.

"Well, I've got to go," Dan said. "I've got a couple more stops to make this morning."

"I'll tell D you were here," I said.

"Hit the ball in front of the plate. And swing through the ball. Tell him that," Dan said. "It's important. For his future."

Friday, August 06, 2004



"Have you heard of those Living Wills? Bugel asked me.

"Of course," I said. "They're pretty common now, aren't they?"

"They're a bunch of shit," Bugel said. "I'm not signing one. I want to live as long as possible. Coma, oxygen, ventilator, whatever. It's better than being dead. You know if you go in the hospital they can put that DNR on your charts? Not for me. I'm having a big R on mine, fuck the DN."

"I'n not clear why you're telling me this." I said. "Shouldn't this be something you go over with your family?"

"I've made a list," Bugel said. "I'm telling everybody on the list. That way there's no confusion. If anybody ever says, for example, that's it's better that I'm dead, that I wouldn't have wanted to be a burden, that's a lie. I've got no problem being a burden. In some ways, I'm almost looking forward to becoming a burden. I hope I do live long enough to be a burden to someone."

"I guess you don't check off that box on your license about organ donation," I said.

"Are you out of your mind?" Bugel laughed. "That's worse than signing your own death warrant. You're talking vivisection."

"So, how is your health?" I asked

"Oh, I'm perfectly fine," Bugel said. "I'm just trying to take care of things responsibly, like they tell you to. Before it's too late."


"I ran into Bugel, over at MonsterShoppingWorld," I told LZ.

"I haven't seen him in years," she said. "How is he doing?"

"He's fine," I said. "Physically. He was talking about Living Wills and the future."

"That doesn't sound like Bugel," LZ said. "He was never the responsible type."

"I guess people can change," I said.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004



Jimson: His passion was barbershop music. His efforts to mold the Jurvoz brothers into a top notch quartet were frustrated by Jake's increasingly erratic behavior. Eventually he stopped singing altogether. In his later years he reportedly became enraged if he should hear even so much as a few bars of Sweet Adeline. Jimson never married. He died an angry and bitter man.

Old Jake: Mister Green Jeans with a carpet knife. Moved out west to become a potato farmer. Never very stable, Jake became increasingly unhinged by the bleak and frigid Idaho winters. He sexually violated and murdered three local girls. I won't go into any of the details here, but Jake's deeds received extensive tabloid coverage at the time. You could look it up.

The B movie Russet Rampage is a lurid look at Jake's atrocities, albeit one that plays fast and loose with the actual facts.

Jake is still alive and resides at the Ketchum Home for the Criminally Insane.

Jervez: A recluse who preferred the company of horses to that of humans. In his later years he was stricken with arthritis, lupus, myasthenia gravis, scleroderma, and a myriad of other, minor ailments. He treated himself with horse medicine, primarily pills, liniments and poultices, estimating the dosage by dividing his weight into that of his favorite horse, Napoleon III. He finally succumbed one cold January evening, after falling face down in a bucket of oats. He was found a few days later when the frantic whinnying of his hungry horses alerted a neighbor.

Jorrel: Youngest of the four. Was a jukebox stocker for a company controlled by the local crime syndicate. Amassed a tremendous collection of used 45's. Became a self-professed expert on one hit wonders.

After many years of working in bars and listening to the pop song after pop song, he turned to painting to quiet his nerves. Worked in oils, painted many cliched scenes of an imagined west. Craggy men, craggy mountains and craggy horses featured prominently in his works. Now also collects western memorabilia.

Father of the Jurvoz who has begun appearing regularly as a more fully realized character in an obscure blog.

Monday, August 02, 2004



Joe H. and I were were discussing the casual cruelty of children.

"We had this kid in our school with a really big head," Joe said. "Everyone called him Billy Big Head."

"That's pretty bad," I said. "I wonder how he ever turned out. Can you get past stuff like that?"

"In this case, it's moot," Joe said. "Billy died. Just a few years later."

"Was his death related to his head size?" I asked.

"I think so," Joe said. "Or maybe I just assumed it. I never really bothered to find out."



Ann S has enjoined me from placing her on the farm. She has threatened me. So, for the present time, Ann will remain a ghostly, undefined presence.

The long thin black hairs on her forearms, standing out in dramatic relief from from creamy, extremely white skin, are, however, in the public domain, and, as such, can be referenced here.

Friday, July 23, 2004



He started out as a regular kid, but then he became a wiseguy.  No one knew exactly why.  Maybe it was because he was a little short.  Maybe it was the bright red hair and the freckles.

Some of the older troublemakers in high school took him under their wing as a sort of wiseguy mascot.  So even though he was younger than we were, he was cruising around in fine style, night after night, while we were walking, riding our bikes, or waiting for rides from someone's father or older sister.

Ken was wise to everyone and no one could do a thing about it, protected as he was by his troublemaker friends.

One night, while cruising around, Ken wised off to the wrong person.  The guy driving Ken had swerved sharply, cutting off the driver in the next lane.  The driver, later identified as a steelworker on his way home from the second shift, blew his horn.  This was the signal for Ken to lean out of the passenger window, give the cutoff driver the finger, and laugh at him.

The driver didn't find this funny.  He followed the car. Ken's group pulled into the back of a parking lot of a local diner; the aggrieved driver followed.  Ken jumped out of his car, determined to insult the driver a few times before his friends got out to back him up. 

As Ken was mouthing off, the driver grabbed him, dragged him over to the edge of the parking lot, and threw him over a small retaining wall down an embankment towards a slow moving creek, all before Ken's friends had a chance to react.

As luck would have it, Ken hit his head on the way down.  By the time his friends had scrambled down, he was unconscious.  They called for an ambulance, but it was too late.  Ken was dead. Massive trauma, bleeding, etc.


F called me the next morning and filled me in.

"I'm glad he's dead," F said.  "He was nothing but trouble."

"He gave you trouble?" I asked.  "I didn't think you even knew him."

"Listen to this," F said.  "That little creep claimed I stole his gym bag.  The school even called my house.  I was supposed to go to a meeting about it Monday morning." 

F started laughing so hard that he could barely speak.

"I guess that meeting's cancelled," he said.

"Did you?" I asked.

"Did I what?" F said.

"Did you steal the gym bag?"

"Of course," said F.  "I never liked that wise little fucker.  I took it even though I already had one.  I just did it to fuck with him. That'll teach that wise bastard."


Coda:  The steelworker had witnesses.  They'd seen him get cut off.  They'd seen the passenger, then victim, make threatening gestures.  They'd seen it was four against one.  So, the original charge of murder was reduced to some sort negligent manslaughter.

I think the steelworker eventually had to pay a small fine and promise not to kill any more wiseguys.

There was some talk of retribution from Ken's friends, but nothing ever came of it.       



Thursday, July 22, 2004



I was at my first Little League practice. As we practiced, a boy walked around around and around the outside of the field. He kept his legs stiff (a modified goose-step I would call it now, though I didn't know the term at the time) and his arms locked at the elbow. He walked slowly and deliberately and pumped each arm in synchronicity with the opposite leg.

"Who's that?" I asked a teammate.

"That's John's little brother," he said, pointing to the third baseman. "His name is Robert. They call him Robert the Robot."

I didn't have to ask why.

All season, at every practice and game, Robert patrolled.

The next year Robert was old enough to be on the team. When he batted, he held the bat as he must have envisioned a robot would. It was next to impossible for him to swing. He either struck out or walked every time he came to bat. When he walked, he robot walked to first base. When he struck out, he robot walked back to the bench. It was all the same to him.

In the beginning of the year Robert played right field. Any ball hit his way was an automatic home run. Finally, our coach moved him to second base. Robert still never fielded any balls, but with another fielder behind him the automatic home runs were avoided.

Robert only played Little League the one year.

The next year he was back on the other side of the fence where he belonged, robot walking to his heart's content.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004



The doorbell rang early one Saturday morning.

"Steve J," I said. "I haven't seen you in years. What brings you here?"

"Actually," said Steve, "I didn't know you lived here. I'm selling vacuums door to door and this is my new territory."

"Really," I said. "I didn't know people still did that."

"Did what?" Steve asked.

"Sold stuff door to door," I said.

"They do," said Steve.

"Well, I'm not in the market for a vacuum," I said. "But you're welcome to come in for a cup of coffee."

"Thanks," said Steve. "I will."

"So, what's new?" I asked Steve.

"Did you hear about Tom W?" Steve asked. "He killed himself, just last week. Blew his brains out with a shotgun."

"You don't say," I said. "Why would he do something like that?"

"Apparently, he had always wanted to be a rock star, and when he realized he would never be one, he couldn't take it."

"I didn't even know Tom was in a band," I said.

"He wasn't," said Steve. "He was a shipping clerk in a ceramics factory."

"Around here?" I asked. "I thought all of the factories had closed up."

"No," said Steve. "There's a few that are hanging on, down in the Polish section."

"We still have a Polish section?" I asked. "I had no idea. I guess I should get out more."

"The Polish people are very meticulous." Steve said. "They clean like crazy. It's called House Proud. I did quite well over there last summer."

"So you really sell vacuums." I said. "At first I thought it must be some sort of scam, or a pyramid scheme."

"I'm just doing this till my band makes it," Steve said. "We're getting real popular. It's only a matter of time until we get signed."

"Sound good," I said. "More coffee?"

"No," said Steve. "I better get going. My district manager will be wondering what happened to me."

"Thanks for stopping by," I said. "And good luck to you, on both of your careers."

"Thanks for the coffee," Steve said.

"Anytime," I said.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004



I was a few weeks into a new job.
"Good morning," I said to a woman waiting for the elevator.  
"Ermph," she grunted at me.
"A woman just grunted at me," I said to a coworker when I got to my section.
"Don't take it personally," my coworker said.  "That's Cindy S.  She grunts at everybody."
"Why is that?" I asked.
"No one knows," my coworker said.  "But she's been grunting at people since I've been here, and probably long before that."
"Does she speak to the people in her section?" I asked.
"She's in Tech.  They don't have to speak to each other."
"How did she get hired?" I asked.  
"This is Civil Service, remember," my coworker said.  "She probably just took a test."
"But still,"  I said, "there's an interview.  Did she grunt at her interview and still get hired?  Did she speak normally and only starting grunting when she got the job?  And what about the probationary period?  Was she speaking or grunting then?"
"I couldn't say," my coworker said.  "That was long before my time.  Cindy has been working here almost twenty-five years.  She came right out of high school."
"Jumping Jesus," I said.  "Imagine that."  
"Whatever happened to that grunting woman?" I asked one day.
"Where were you?"  my coworker said.  "It was a big deal. She fell down and broke her leg right outside the building. She was on her way in and she slipped on the ice."
"What ice?" I asked.  "It's sixty degrees outside."
"It happened last winter, during that bad storm."
"That was eight months ago," I said.  "It must have been quite a break." 
"I hear she's on permanent disability," my coworker said.
"Oh,"  I said. 

"Did you see the weekly bulletin?" my coworker asked.  "That Cindy.  The Grunter. Remember her?  She died."
"Really," I said.  "Let me see."
"Hey," I said.  "The service is in Oceanville.  That's pretty far away."
"Well, that's where she lived," my coworker said.
"She lived in Oceanville?  And she worked here? That's almost a two hour drive each way," I said. "She drove that every day?"
"Her father drove her," my coworker said.  "She lived at home all her life.  Her father would drop her off every morning and pick her up at night. Cindy didn't drive."
"Jumping Jesus,"  I said.  "Imagine that."

Monday, July 19, 2004



Dr. F and I had been out driving around rather aimlessly one night when F had an idea.
"I know," he said.  "Let's go into town and pick up some hookers."
"I only have around seven dollars,"  I said. 
"We don't need any money," Dr. F said.
"We don't?" I asked.  "Why not?"
"My brother, Big F, he goes down there all the time. The ho's all love him. I'll just tell them I'm Big F's brother and they'll do us for nothing."
"Are you sure about this?" I asked.  "It doesn't sound quite right."
"Of course I'm sure," F said.  "Didn't I just tell you all the hookers love my brother?  He's a sick, demented animal, you know."
"I do know that," I said.  "I read about it in the newspaper."    



Connie C was my great grandfather.  I never met him; he died some time before I was born.  All I know of him comes from my mother.  Connie lived with her family when my she was a young girl.  What I do know is:
1. He was very strong. Once he lifted a car. And that was when cars were big heavy things, made of steel, not aluminum.
2. He started every morning with a half dozen eggs, a pound of bacon, and a big tumbler of whiskey.  One morning he came down for breakfast, went to get his bottle of whiskey and saw that it was empty.  He left the room, went to the bathroom, and came back with a big container of rubbing alcohol.  He poured himself a glassful.
The women of the house were shocked and dismayed.  My grandmother, Connie's daughter, asked him if were really going to drink it.  "That's poison," she said.
"Bah," said Connie.  "What's good for the outsides is good for the insides."  And he drained the glass. 
All heck broke loose. Everyone expected Connie to get sick and die.  One aunt was praying.  Another ran down the street to summon a doctor.  My mother was crying.    
But Connie was fine.  It turned out he was right about the insides and the outsides.
3.   He was never sick a day in his life.  In fact, he would probably still be alive today if he hadn't fallen and broken his hip, then taken a turn for the worse and died.  
4.  One time, all of the other adults were out of the house and Connie was charged with watching the grandchildren.  He taught them how to smoke a pipe and how to play pinochle.       

Friday, July 16, 2004



I went to school with Peter for a few years. He was passive and quiet. I don't remember him saying much of anything. Although he didn't have the energy to be bad himself, he always laughed a mirthless, soulless, laugh whenever anyone did something really terrible.

The teacher would walk down the aisle. Jackie S. would turn around in his desk and give her the finger behind her back. Peter would laugh: "Huh, hu, hu."

Thus casting his lot with the misbehavers, Peter got a reputation as a bad guy without ever doing anything.

He had straight black hair and very white skin. He slumped around in such a way that he appeared to have no bones between his shoulders and his feet. I actually began to believe this, that he had no bones, that he was stuffed, maybe with pudding.

Finally I could take it no more. We were milling around the classroon for some reason. Peter was staring out of the window. I walked up behind him and punched him in the back as hard as I could. My fist sunk right in, no resistance at all.

When I hit him, Peter said: "Upmh." He half turned to me and smiled. Then he went back to looking out the window. After that year Peter went to a different school. I never saw him again.



Some years ago I was walking into a restaurant with FW when I heard someone calling me from the bar. It was John C, a childhood friend. I hadn't seen him in almost twenty years.

"How have you been?" I asked. (I'd heard that he'd been in jail; I hoped he wouldn't fill me in on the details.)

"Great," John said. "I've been doing a lot of gambling. I fly out to Vegas almost every month."

"Great," I said.

"I usually go out there with Peter S. Do you know him?" John asked.

"Not really," I said.

"Well, Peter got electrocuted a few years ago," John said.

"You go to Vegas with a dead man?" I asked.

"He got electrocuted, but he didn't die," John said. "We work together. I was almost right there when it happened."

"I though you had to die," I said.

"You don't," John said.

"I never knew that," I said.

"Anyway, Peter's got it made now. He got a ton of money from the lawsuit and he doesn't have to work anymore, because he's all fucked up from being electrocuted. He springs for the suite and sometimes even the airfare. He doesn't care."

"That's great," I said.

"You should come out with us sometime," John said.

"Maybe I will," I said. "I'm going to go eat now, but keep in touch."

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